Radical long-distance nationalism: why so many Polish migrants choose to hate online?

There is a digital war within the Polish migrant community in Scotland. Our digital war is full of passion. We wave our digital flags, post memes, quote statistics, and share videos clips. We fight each others Polishness or lack of it. Some of us propose that those who are not Polish enough should be hanged, burnt alive or/and even exterminated in gas chambers. We are united in our disregard for those who do not fit into our criteria of Polishness. We block. We hate.

Image source: Polacy w Edinburgh (Polish Facebook Group in Edinburgh)

Earlier this year on Facebook, a prominent Polish activist was described as the enemy of the nation. Some of the most radical users described her as a self-hating Pole. It was suggested that she — and those like her — should be hanged. A few months later, a new click-war started as a result of the LGBT Pride Month. One Facebook user complained, ‘Too many rainbows! too many deviants!Not enough space for normal people like us’. Others shared their frustration related to the number of LGBT rainbows at their local Asda. ‘Who funds this gender ideology?’ — they demanded answers.

Source: GIPHY ( more info → Polish bishops accuse Ikea of ‘LGBT indoctrination’)

The latest version of the digital-hate-wonderland presented itself in recent weeks. The latest wave of online homophobia can be linked to several things: (1) the digital noise related to the promotion of the anti-LGBT stickers ; (2) online campaign against a controversial Polish comedian’s performance in Scotland; (3) the recent drama from Polish IKEA ; and finally (4) the anti-LGBT riots in Bialystok in Poland.

As the accumulated anger exploded on Polish forums in Scotland, I began to truly worry about my leftists and LGBT friends' safety. This is also why I’ve decided to take a closer look at the right-wing Polish extremists in Scotland.

Image source: Polacy w Glasgow (Polish Facebook Group in Glasgow)

They are largely invisible offline — at least for now. Similarly to many radical right-wing extremists worldwide, Scottish-Poles choose Facebook as their primary battlefield. While some of them prefer to stay anonymised, many (intentionally or unintentionally) publically display pictures with their children or details of their employment. Their radical social media activities seem to be quite regular and are particularly intense in the evening and weekends.

Right-wing extremists (RWEs) have an extensive and violent history of othering those who they perceive as their “enemy” (Perry 2001). Historically, Jewish, Black, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities have borne the brunt of RWE anger

(Scrivens, 2019:1)

Right-wing extremism is often NOT about who and what you support, but about who and what you despise. For right-wing extremists, Polish online discussion forums have become tools, “to air their grievances, bond and form a collective identity by othering their “common enemies”(Scrivens, 2019:1), their identity becomes meaningful in the “presence of and through interaction with the Other” (Garapich, 2007, p.12).

Image source: Polacy w Glasgow (Polish Facebook Group in Glasgow)

Online radicalisation has become quite common worldwide. As online right-wing agenda has been on the rise for several years now, it is not surprising that the Polish community has also joined the club. What is unique about long-distance nationalism is that Polish migrants tend to channel their anger through Polish forums based in Scotland - which are officially outside Polish jurisdiction. Thus, to report their hate crime, you need to take extra effort to translate their hate-speech into English and then take it to the police (this does take place on a regular basis). This complicated situation has led to a formation of ‘radical unaccountability’, whereby an online right-wing extremist “rarely pays taxes in the country in which he does his politics; he is not answerable to its judicial system” — and, while living in Scotland — he can freely “circulate propaganda, and build intercontinental computer information circuits” (Conversi, 2012:1360). In a sense, not much can be done about it, right?

Extremism involves categorical us-versus-them thinking, often fueled by a dense, closed-off environment of like-minded individuals. Approving of the use of violence, including against civilians, can further alienate an individual from society; it also marks an important stage in which the individual can become psychologically prepared to use violence (The Europen Institue of Peace, 2019)

A quick scan of Polish Facebook groups reveals that the radical right-wing extremists have several things in common. First, they disregard the idea of progress. It seems that while progress is speeding in front of their eyes, they are unable to catch up or to benefit from it. However, it is also true that progress forgot about them. In many cases, they are silenced and excluded in the name of progress.

The right-wing Polish extremists might be socially isolated (not fully participating in the Scottish civil society). They are cynical and quite angry. Their ‘truth’ is often defined through the lens of traditional and Catholic Polish values — this is what they call the normal. According to them, a Pole living in Scotland who does not support these traditional values should be considered as the enemy of the nation. Some Polish migrants-extremists see themselves even as “more radical than ‘natives’ when they engage in ‘homeland politics” (Conversi, 2012:1359).

As the world is changing and archaic social and cultural divisions dissolving, the Polish right-wingers struggle to identify their roles and safe place in their ever-changing realities. They are fed up with their lack of control over, respect, and voice. They use social media to change this. The Internet provides a minority of Polish migrants with a safe space to express their ultra-nationalism, homophobia, and racism —all considered as criminal offenses in Scotland.

Some argue that the roots of the problem are linked to the Polish educational system, which for many years did not include the citizenship or sexual education in their curriculum. When it comes to learning about sex, many Poles source their info from the toxic mix of the Polish Catholic Church, mainstream media and online porn. No wonder that many in Poland (and Poles in Scotland) believe that World Health Organization sex education standards for Europe would cause “sex addiction” and “confusion about gender identity.” How can you understand sex education of you have nothing to compare to?

Image source: Polacy w Glasgow (Polish Facebook Group in Glasgow)

Another reason for this long-distance radical nationalism might be the pro-longed immigration, exclusion from the native society and most importantly — the negative emotional impact of Brexit. If, in general, people who support right-wing ideologies often experience fear, anxiety, shame, aggression, and hostility — then in the context of Brexit these negative feelings might be amplified (even for those Poles who are anti-EU and yep, there are many of them in Scotland).

Science says that right-wing personalities are also more prone to develop low self-esteem, negative attitudes towards lives and depression (Onraet, 2013). No wonder, that in the current post-Brexit hostile-environment some Poles choose to boost their morale and well-bing within the right-wing online collective, where instant gratification and quick dopamine hits are easy to obtain.

Image Source: The Gay Enemy in Poland’s Culture War | Bloomberg

Marginalised, invisible and voiceless in their host country, they have re-framed their identity and sense of belonging through a Facebook group.

In the end, it’s hard to decide if they are the ones who created online hate — or if it's the online hate that created them.

  • My views are obviously not representative of the entire Polish community in Scotland.
  • Please note that I’m happy to discuss my work. However, any online threats will be reported to the law enforcement authorities, if necessary legal action will be taken.

Conversi, D. (2012). Irresponsible radicalisation: Diasporas, globalisation and long-distance nationalism in the digital age. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 38(9), 1357–1379.

Garapich, M. (2007). Odyssean refugees, migrants and power–construction of ‘other’within the Polish ‘community’in the UK. Immigration and citizenship in Europe and the US Anthropological perspectives, 124–44.

Koehler, D. (2014). Right-wing extremist radicalization processes: The formers’ perspective. Journal EXIT-Deutschland, 1, 307–377.

Onraet, E., Van Hiel, A., & Dhont, K. (2013). The relationship between right-wing ideological attitudes and psychological well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(4), 509–522.

Scrivens, R., Davies, G., & Frank, R. (2018). Measuring the Evolution of Radical Right-Wing Posting Behaviors Online. Deviant Behavior, 1–17.

Dr Alicja Pawluczuk (AKA hy_stera) writes about digital humanities, feminism, and social justice → www.alicjapawluczuk.com + www.hystera.online